Health

Everlane Reassures Workers, Then Lays Off and Furloughs Hundreds

The "ethical" clothing retailer recently claimed to workers that its "team connection" was "stronger than ever."
March 27, 2020, 9:42pm
A woman with her back to the camera pulls a white Everlane bra over her head. The words "Everlane presens" are on the screen in front of her hair.
An ad campaign by Everlane.

The clothing retailer Everlane, the branding of which has long been insistently focused on “radical transparency” and ethical behavior in all parts of its business, has made sweeping layoffs, VICE has learned, after sending an email to staffers assuring them the company was “stronger than ever” during the coronavirus pandemic.

Remote “customer experience” workers who are in the midst of unionizing and asked the company for recognition earlier this week were nearly all laid off, with 42 of the 57 members of that team out of work. According to an internal message from Everlane CEO Michael Preysman, the text of which was shared with VICE, so were 180 part-time retail employees, while 68 full-time retail employees were “furloughed”. Last week, Everlane laid off eight temporary workers with three days’ notice and no severance.

Derris, a public relations firm retained by Everlane, didn’t immediately respond on the record to a request for comment. (Update: the company's response is below.) According to the text of the memo from Preysman, the employees will be offered two weeks’ severance.

Do you work for a company that's telling customers one thing about COVID and you something else? We'd love to talk to you. Contact the reporter at anna.merlan@vice.com.

“This is the most difficult decision I have ever made as a leader,” Preysman wrote in the memo. “Each of these individuals has contributed meaningfully to Everlane and we are doing everything we can to support them with the resources we have available. During this phase, while stores remain closed and online sales depressed, I am taking my salary to zero and our senior leadership is reducing their salaries by 25 percent.”

The news that online sales were depressed—and that they were being laid off—came as a shock to Everlane employees, who say they’d been told repeatedly by management in recent days that the business was fundamentally sound and that there was no need for panic. A memo sent to staffers from a management team member, which was shared with VICE, states that while the company was feeling the impacts of having to temporarily close its retail stores during the COVID-19 pandemic, “on-line business has been surprisingly solid.”

The memo also stated that “in some ways our sense of team connection is feeling stronger than ever.”

Out of the remote customer-experience—or CX, in company lingo—team, 15 people were retained and will reportedly be made full-time, according to the laid off workers. Those laid off CX workers also say some of the remaining retail employees are being trained to replace them. This makes them, as one laid off worker disgustedly told VICE, “de facto scabs.”

Retail employees are also reeling. “I just got furloughed today,” a retail employee based in New York told VICE. “All of the retail workers that are being trained for the CX positions are managers.”

The employee added: “We had no information about our jobs until today. We were in the dark for the last 2 weeks.”

"The general mood in every meeting has been encouragement,” one CX worker based in California who was laid off today told us. The messaging from management, she said, had been sunny.

“‘We're all in this together. we'll get through this together. We're a team. This is our opportunity to show the world how good people can be’ and stuff like that,” she said. “I know the whole world is taking cuts, and this is happening to too many people on a broad scale. But I never thought it would happen to us. It felt like our jobs were needed now more than ever.”

The California worker has another part-time job, and says she’s lucky enough to have a partner who’s also earning an income. “I feel absolutely heartbroken for my coworkers who can't afford rent, child-care, and medical care because of this,” she said.

Another remote CX worker in New York told VICE she wasn’t even given the opportunity to speak to a human being before being shut out of her work accounts. “In full transparency, I haven’t officially been fired yet,” she wrote in an email. “One of our full time CX point people called me, I missed it, I called back to no answer, then a few hours later all my accounts were closed. It’s even more frustrating to be left in the dark and not have official communication.”

If it wasn’t for the close-knit community of remote workers, who maintain a private offsite Slack room, the presumably ex-employee added, “I wouldn’t even know what was going on at this point.”

The employee added that the layoffs are “a total surprise. I had a meeting with my point person on Monday and was asking questions about the company’s ability to weather all of this. She emphasized that orders have been coming in strong (which we’ve seen in our workload) and that there’s no risk of the warehouse having to close or stop fulfilling orders. We had absolutely no warning and we’ve heard only positive things from leadership. The irony is just so ripe with Everlane’s messaging about how we’re all in this together.”

The Twitter account for the unionizing Everlane workers sent out a series of messages confirming that they’d nearly all been laid off and that workers from the retail stores were being trained to replace them.

The laid-off CX workers confirmed they were let go soon after asking for union recognition, which the Everlane Union Twitter account called “morally reprehensible.” Several remote CX workers who were laid off told us that everyone who’d changed their avatars in Everlane’s company Slack to a union logo was laid off. However, another worker, who did not change her avatar, said she was laid off as well. Everlane, through its PR firm, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on whether their request for union recognition had caused the CX employees to be laid off.

One recently laid-off employee hadn’t been supportive of the union, telling us, “Even in the midst of the unionization, I stood by Everlane and defended the company. I did not sign a union card, I thought Everlane would have solutions to make things better. Their main solution was creating a handful of full-time jobs.”

While Derris, the public relations firm employed by Everlane, didn’t immediately respond to our request for comment, Jesse Derris, the firm’s founder, previously got in touch with VICE via email, during our December reporting on Everlane’s customer service team unionizing. Derris made the unusual move of contacting a reporter directly, seemingly to ask that the company be viewed through a more favorable lens.

“I respect that you guys are challenging them,” Derris wrote. “But I would just add that they are good people trying to do the right thing. They aren't some jaded gigantic corporation. And when they get things wrong - which we all do - they actually admit it and try in good faith to do better.

“I'd ask that you view them through the lens of a fast growing brand trying to do the right thing,” he wrote, “rather than a large company trying to wrong it's employees.”

“I am deeply disheartened, devastated, angry, and upset,” another New York-based remote CX employee told VICE. “I've been with this company with what would have been 3 years this summer and I'm completely in shock the way this was handled. We have weekly company and team meetings: there was absolutely no recent mention or even allusion to Everlane cutting back in production or that lay offs were something they were looking into. Everything was discussed as usual (product launches, how the company was doing as a whole).”

One thing the New York employee is sure of, she added: “Everlane is losing some of the kindest, most intelligent, hardest working employees in the customer service industry. My colleagues were the main reason I stayed at this company for this long.”

Update, 5:45 P.M. EST:

Immediately upon publication of this story, Everlane provided the following statement:

COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the entire world, and Everlane is no exception. In order to ensure we are here for the long run, we made the very difficult decision to reduce our team across retail and customer experience by 222 people. We have offered two weeks of severance to every person impacted, and hope to build our team back as the economy improves.

Update, Saturday March 28:

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders denounced the firings on Twitter, writing, "using this health and economic crisis to union bust is morally unacceptable." He also called on Everlane to recognize the union and re-hire the affected workers.

The laid-off Everlane workers have also created a relief fund.

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